PLAYA DEL CARMEN — Eric Haan marked his eighth wedding anniversary and his oldest son’s sixth birthday this year by himself.
Given it’s been more than three years since the Michigan man’s wife took their children during a family vacation in Mexico and left, it was hard to do both. Now, he spends most of those two days praying and reading his Bible in Mexico, according to a story in the Detroit News.
“It’s a very difficult time,” Haan said. “I don’t even know what my sons look like anymore. It’s just very hard not being there for them, not sharing those special days.”
Haan said the nightmare began Jan. 14, 2013. He alleged his wife, Karla Montemayor, abducted their two sons while the family of four was visiting her parents in the town of Puerto Aventuras, near Playa Del Carmen.
He and his wife had been working through some marital struggles and getting help from their church pastor in Michigan, where they lived.
But somedevelopments in the last few months could help Haan get closer to reuniting with his sons, Pablo, 6, and Joshua, 4.
One was that a Mexican federal court in Cancun recently ordered Haan’s wife to immediately return Pablo and Joshua to their home in the United States.
The second was another court victory for Haan: Mexico’s Supreme Court in December overturned a lower court’s decision to deny the boys’ return to the U.S. On top of that, a Michigan Circuit Court judge issued an order on May 19, 2016, giving Haan parenting time with his children and requesting the FBI help find Haan’s estranged wife and his sons.
The situation had looked pretty grim.
Haan was convicted of domestic violence charges Montemayor filed against him in Playa Del Carmen. He is appealing.
Not only that, he said a Mexican court worker tried to deliver legal documents for another matter to Haan’s wife in December but found the home where she was staying with their sons abandoned.
Haan called Montemayor’s cell phone and sent her email, but she has gotten rid of her phone and shut down the email account, he said. He has also been unable to contact her family members.
“Since December, we’ve not known where my wife and children are,” Haan said. “I’ve tried to find them in Mexico, but haven’t been successful. The key thing in the (Michigan Circuit Court ruling) is a judge requested the FBI become involved in locating my children.”
He said his attorney, Carlos Alvarado, has told him the Michigan court decision is enforceable in Mexico because of the treaties it has with the United States.
Haan’s story is an example of an international child abduction, a crime the U.S. Department of Justice defines as “one parent removing a child from the U.S. or retaining a child in another country with intent to obstruct another parent’s custodial rights.”
If convicted, a parent can face up to three years in prison for the crime.
More than 530 cases of international parental child abduction cases were reported to the U.S. Department of State in 2014, according to the agency’s 2015 annual report on the crime.
Mexico accounted for the lion’s share of the cases with 169, the department reported. Fifty-nine of those cases were unresolved.
And how many more cases went unreported is anyone’s guess, said officials with Child Find of America. The group is a national nonprofit based in New Paltz, New York, that works to prevent and resolve child abductions.
To make matters worse, there aren’t any accurate figures for how often internationally abducted children are returned to the left-behind parent, the group said in an email.
“Our general sense is that recovering an internationally abducted child can be very difficult,” the group said.
Haan met his wife in 2007 through a mutual friend during a business trip to Mexico. Haan and Montemayor married the next year and lived in St. Joseph, a small lakefront town in southwest Michigan.
Pablo was born in 2010 and Joshua arrived the following year. The family moved to Frankfort, about 40 miles southwest of Traverse City, in 2012.
That Christmas, Haan and his family visited his in-laws in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. During the visit, Montemayor and her father accused Haan of domestic violence and he was arrested in January 2013, Haan said. At the time, the boys were ages 2 and 1.
Meanwhile, his appeal of the conviction on the charges is working through Mexico’s legal process. Haan said nowhere in the charges are allegations that he physically harmed his wife.
“I’m completely not guilty of these charges,” he said. “It’s disturbing that I’ve been found guilty of something that never happened. It’s pretty clear they were filed to keep my children in Mexico.”
Haan said his lawyer feels confident he will win his appeal once it gets into federal court.
“Since we found some human rights violations, we are very optimistic either from appeal court or from Federal Court,” Alvarado said in an email.
Haan has also filed several lawsuits in Mexico against Montemayor. One is based on criminal charges for not letting him see his children. Another seeks restitution for his legal costs. A third is a civil action seeking visitation with his sons.
He said the ordeal has cost him more than $100,000 in legal and travel costs.
“I’ve spent over $70,000 on lawyers alone,” Haan said. “I’m starting to run out of money.”
In addition, Mexico’s courts require him to stay in the country, he said.
Haan worries his relationship with his sons may be irreparably harmed because they’ve spent so much time apart and he doesn’t know what they’re being told about him.
But what really hurts is all of the time with them he’s lost.
“I regret the things with them I’ve lost already birthdays and Christmases and seeing them learn and develop,” Haan said. “That’s irreplaceable. I can’t get go back in time and get it back. That’s gone forever.”
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